Deer hunters uncover a red ‘68 Hemi Charger…in October.
By Al Dente Photos by Paul Stenquist
All cars have a story, some are better than others. ‘Course, if a car’s history is pretty bland we can always make one up (slight charge) and make the owner look like an action hero. And we throw in our Mopar Action signature smart remarks as a bonus. It’s more work on our part, but we think you readers are worth the extra effort.
That said, we now turn to James Jones’ 1968 Hemi charger. James didn’t find it in a barn or sitting under a tree in someone’s yard. It all started some 8 years ago with some deer hunters who had come down from North Carolina to Georgia, where James happens to reside, to hunt deer and drink beer. Maybe there was a deer or beer shortage—or both in NC. The hunt, both for deer and beer took the men past an old auto repair shop. They peeked inside and saw a bunch of cars. Nothing was moving so they didn’t shoot anything. Their paths happened to cross that of James’ brother-in-law. Thankfully, they didn’t shoot him either. The hunters mentioned the cars they saw and the location. James’ brother-in-law passed it onto James.
James had worked as a mechanic in a Mopar dealership back in the ‘60s. In those days, they were called mechanics, not like today where they are called technicians. Either way, James toiled over fenders and under grease racks and dashboards for 5 years, then he left. He returned in ’84 to find the dealership had closed. Fine with James. H bought the property and opened up his own repair shop at the facility. We don’t know whether he referred to himself at this time as a mechanic, technician or “Mr. Fix-It.” James did that until 2005 when he retired and started enjoying life. A good part of that enjoyment came from the 80 or so car that James had stashed in several locations.
Talking to the owner of the old repair shop, James learned that the shop had been owned by two brothers, and they had amassed their own collection of some 12-15 cars plus a big collection of parts. The plan was once the brothers retired, they would restore and sell the cars. The layers of dust on the vehicles led James to believe the claim that they had been sitting in place since 1975. But all didn’t go as planned for the brothers. One developed terminal cancer, and on his deathbed, he told his brother to sell all the cars, take the money and enjoy his life.
James looked over the cars—a pretty eclectic collection that included a ’68 Hemi Charger R/T, a ’70 Challenger 440-6 R/T SE, ’41 Caddy hearse, ’79 455 HO Poncho T/A, ’70 Boss 429 ‘Stang and others. The brother asked him, which one do you want. James replied “I’ll take ‘em all.” Hauling the cars to add to his collection, James said all of them needed restoration “all the way.” He was able to crank a couple to life by adding as and “fooling with the carburetion.” No such luck with the ’68.
Hemi Charger as “fooling with the carbs” wouldn’t overcome the Hemi’s main problem—a couple of rods poking through the side of the block. The Charger would be the first car James wanted to restore. Turning to the pros, James sent the Charger out to Todd’s Body Shop in Deland, FL. Todd’s a Mopar guy so he knows his stuff.
The Hemi block was toast, so Todd came up with a correctly date-coded replacement. All the needed internals had been included in the pile of parts that James got when he bought all of the brother’s cars. The only parts Todd had to search for were a clutch fork and a starter. Todd slow-baked the Charger with a rotisserie restoration. James had sent him a lot of NOS trim pieces, but Todd felt they were not good enough as some had blems and scratches. So he sent out the car’s original trim for refinishing.
With the restoration completed in June 2012, Todd turned the 66K-mile charger back to its owner. Preserving it as a show car, James trailered the Hemi to the 2013 Mopar Nats to see how it would fare. A First Place award for ’68-’72 B-Body Dodge was the result. Not too shabby.
And that ’41 Caddy hearse? James said that’s the car his wife wants to ride in—presumably in the front.